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Page last updated at 08:39 GMT, Monday, 10 August 2009 09:39 UK
Doncaster marks first for flying

First air show toasts 100 years

By James Vincent
BBC Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Doncaster has a long and proud aviation history, but before Robin Hood Airport and RAF Finningley, it hosted Britain's first aviation meeting.

Not many of those jetting off to Malaga on their budget flights from Doncaster will know, but the town is where it all began back in October 1909.

The Wright Brothers had made the world's first flight in North Carolina in 1903. Six years later people people flocked to Doncaster for more.

A whole new way of life had been born.

The first ever aviation meeting in the world had taken place just a couple of months before at Rheims in France and the race was on to host the first in Great Britain.

The idea for an aviation meeting had been created at a very different event. While the British thoroughbred racehorse Bayardo was winning the 1909 St Leger, racecourse managers were already dreaming of crowds at Town Moor watching the flying celebrities of the day.

Doncaster Aviation meeting 1909
Britain's first aviation meeting at Doncaster racecourse

Blackpool had plans for a meeting in mid-October but it was Doncaster who got there first by just a couple of days.

Carolyn Dalton from Doncaster Museum says a very polite 1909 argument ensued: "Doncaster nipped in before Blackpool and we have some of the telegrams from their aero-club threatening the Mayor of Doncaster in a very polite way. They said many of their members were also members of the Jockey Club."

"They said they didn't like to think this sporting town would act in such an unsporting manner."

Huge Crowds

Despite the thinly-veiled threats the meeting went ahead with some of the most famous flyers in the world coming to Doncaster. Contemporary reports say one million people came to see them, though Carolyn Dalton says that figure cannot be trusted:

"I think they were probably exaggerating. People could see from around the course without paying, so they didn't sell as many tickets as they wanted."

Bamboo planes often broke up in mid-air.
Many of the planes were built using bamboo, by the pilots themselves

Many of the pilots were rightly called daredevils. The small band of adventurers designed and built their own planes, often out of bamboo. Carolyn says she is not sure whether they were brave or foolish.

"The planes were essentially crates. Of the men at the show three of them were dead within four years, killed in flying accidents. Their machines just broke up in mid-air in some cases."

One of the most famous flyers was Samuel Cody, a pioneer of the bamboo aeroplane. He lashed together sticks to make his plane, one of them sits in Doncaster Museum.

"He actually crashed on the second day. He was really lucky to survive but he jumped up and cursed the ground. Because he was at the far end of the racecourse, one of the other aviators flew to his aid and that was the first airborne rescue in history."

It seems that it was not just the aviators who were in danger. The packed crowds had come to see how these machines could get into the air. When they were coming down they were not so interested.

"One of the flyers called Le Blanc had only learned to fly six weeks before," says Carolyn. "He was flying quite low, got caught by a crosswind and narrowly avoided the crowd.

"It was like he was on a steeplechase, he just managed to up the plane to miss the crowd and crashed upside down on the other side. He survived, but six months later he died at an air show in Spain."

The exhibition celebrating the 1909 aviation meeting is at Doncaster Museum until 29th November 2009.

Bi-plane at Doncaster
Early bi-planes were seen for the first time at Doncaster

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